I blame Julie Bishop

I’m pretty sure that the Liberal rank and file wish the performance of their elected representatives were better. One need only look at the polls.

Heck, I’ve got friends in the Liberal party who are disgusted with the way the Howard Government and now the Turnbull opposition is spinning the stories of refugees.

If the Rudd Government’s softening of asylum seeker laws precipitates an influx of refugees from the middle east simply by occurring in sequence (post hoc ergo propter hoc – it’s a fallacy!), then I guess it also precipitated the increases in refugees from the Middle East seeking asylum elsewhere in the world. I’m sure any time now EU nations are going to be filling up the message bank of Kirribilli House, screaming “RUDD! Look at what you’ve done! Your weak stance on immigration is filling Europe with an Islamic horde (and some oppressed Middle Eastern Christians who don’t have the same scare value)!”

In case you can’t tell, I’m being sarcastic. That was a reductio ad absurdum.

Considering how stupid this line of “reasoning” (my apologies to reason for the smear) being deployed by the right wing, pseudo-intelligentsia of the MSM and Australian Liberal Party is, I feel I really need to spell these things out. Please be patient – some of the people reading this post may not be as smart or as sane as you are.

That being said, with public opinion at about 36% of Australians believing this xenophobic delusion (the last time I checked), it’s probably not a state of emergency in as far as popular racism goes. Whatever the refugees are fleeing from probably entails an emergency (if I lived in Afghanistan, I’d be trying to get my family out!) and for the blithering, bumbling, flailing, trite, vexatious, intellectually barren Australian right, it’s a PR emergency. Australians should be humane about the former and merely unsympathetically self-interested about the latter (bad opposition makes bad governance easier after all.)

I’m happy to delay judgement on the current wave of asylum seekers until more is known and due process takes its course (and for the process to be subject to critique.) The debate is in no reasonable need of being rushed, at least not from any perspective other than perhaps those of and those sympathetic to the refugees (and even then, the general public isn’t in possession of the details to have a properly informed sympathy yet.)

In Neil’s words, people should hold their horses.

I’m not happy about all the hysteria (and I guess in a way, I’m regurgitating this hysteria on to you in the form of inflamed rhetoric – my half-felt apologies.)

Getting to my actual point…

I’m a carer and aside from being the kind of guy who cares about people (which makes all this stupidity all the more offensive), I’m a guy who needs his sleep. I can be, and have been kept awake all sorts of hours and naturally, when I do get to sleep, it’s bloody important.

So when a friend, who has acknowledged my sleeping patterns twice this week and woke me up at roughly the same time last Thursday night (twelve minutes later to be more precise), gets so excited that their critical faculties give way and they just have to ring me up and raise me from my valuable slumber, I’m going to get a bit pissed off. After only one hour of sleep, with drool running down my chin, I pick up the phone to be bombarded with a few excited paragraphs worth of “I just had to tell someone”, “Q&A”, “Julie Bishop”, “stupid”, “Ha!Ha!”, “OMG!”, “P. J. O’Rourke”, “real intellectual”, “Bishop”, “desperate”, “spin”, “pathetic.”

To be honest, I knew this stuff from the moment Julie Bishop dismissed informed educational philosophy as mere leftist ideology, claimed a sensible centre (as if the shifting political centre is necessarily sensible*), hyperbolised the history of Mao into mangled metaphor and pretended her academic proto-putsche was more than just a recycling of Howard’s ideologically motivated (and woefully unpopular) attack on values education in public schools.

So you can understand then that I don’t want to be woken up to be told something I already know. It took me over two hours to get back to sleep.

But such is the resounding strength of Bishop’s bombastic brand of cynical political point scoring, that it can echo into my most restful of states via the people who get contaminated by it. This is some seriously toxic crap.

Of course, this particular breed of political point scoring is designed to get past people’s critical reasoning (presumably to tap into their fears – which hasn’t worked for the Libs in a number of years) by means of emotional excitation – which explains both the enthusiastic schadenfreude of my friend overcoming rather obvious telecommunicative sensibilities, and the foam at the mouth of uncritical consumers of fine, paranoid screed.

I’m sure the former wasn’t intended by Julie Bishop. Nobody likes being laughed at after all. But I do hold her responsible – as I do for all contributions to Australian culture our politicians and media outlets make.

This crap the likes of Bishop put out is toxic. Not just xenophobic-toxic but bad-faith, anti-reason, anti-intellectual, anti-human-toxic. The selfish tantrums of a political movement with a massive sense of entitlement, yet none of the qualities to earn it – naturally divorced from realising how detrimental these tantrums are to the broader culture they are supposed to serve.

I don’t actually blame Julie Bishop of course. Her conduct as an MP is the problem of Australian right-wing discourse in a microcosm and in as far as she’s been an enabler of xenophobia, she has merely been actioning un-self-enlightened, inept opportunism. That I can say “merely” is testimony to the detriment of Howard’s contribution to our culture, which Bishop can only take crib notes from.

As was the case with Costello’s appropriation of Howard’s Muslim menace, and is the case with Malcolm Turnbull’s recent dog whistle politics. Howard could sell this crap to the Australian centre in a way his impersonators can’t, in a large part because of the fact that he could sell it to himself. Watching Turnbull and Bishop try to do the same while holding on to their fleeting integrity is pathetic to watch.

I want to shake the Liberal party. To yell at them, “Look at what you’ve done to Malcolm!”

Back in the 1990s, Malcolm Turnbull was a major contributor to Australian political thought. Unconstrained by caucus, he could tell you what he thought and the man clearly wasn’t a moron. Then came talk of a parliamentary career and subsequent pre-selection (the politics of the latter still showing signs of Turnbull’s integrity.)

Then compromise. Compromise with a bickering pack of spoiled political brats who had previously kept a lid on things out of a superstitious need to keep Howard in place like some kind of good luck charm. A superstition they don’t seem to extend to their subsequent leaders – and thus any aspirational party leader had better be prepared to be embalmed in right wing bile and preserved for all history in a state of compromised integrity. Even many in the Labor party have been similarly denatured.

Of course, the bile never used to flow through Howard. He was embalmed long beforehand and like the Curse of the Mummy, to this day doesn’t realise that he’s dead yet.

No. Caught in the gastric tubing of the Liberal party like some malignant polyp as Howard was, the bile had to flow some other way. Through the Liberal apparatchik of the mainstream media. News Ltd in particular. I’m not going to speculate on what gastric orifice they represent.

I could name names of those with conveniently timed opinion pieces that were coincidentally harmonious with as yet unreleased Howard government political statements. I could even point to the right-wing recipients of conveniently leaked government documents.

Many of you can probably reel off a list of names yourself. Between The Hun, The Tele and The Ostrayun there are quite a few.

But that’s not my point. My point isn’t what they are but what they aren’t. Where is the Australian right’s P.J. O’Rourke?

The Australian left is by far the better producer of political satire, but even they would have their hands full with the likes of O’Rourke. O’Rourke is intellectually honest – he says what he thinks and doesn’t whore himself to The Party. He’s rather witty and far fairer to his interlocutors than anything the Australian right ever cooked up. That I think he’s deeply wrong on things like abortion and stem-cell research and that I can’t endorse his libertarianism, nor the inability of the Cato Institute (of which O’Rourke is a prominent member) to recognise global warming denialism for what it is, matters not a bit to this estimation.

Imagine Adams versus O’Rourke. Imagine a Chaser stunt failing to ensnare him.

Imagine debate between Marr and O’Rourke on the most polarising topic you can imagine.

Can you see Bob Ellis going toe-to-toe with O’Rourke? Do Leunig’s limp caricatures wilt even more at the prospect of competing with O’Rourke’s critique?

At best, the Australian right has produced pseudo-intellectual hacks and try hard satirists who at best may be able to convince themselves and their uncritical fans that they are some kind of O’Rourke. They are no such thing. We wouldn’t need to import American opinion if they were.

Instead we are left with a broken political right, spraying pent-up venom on all and sundry, trying desperately to score a hit on those that they feel are responsible for the loss of their entitlements.

This insipid, anti-intellectual, toxic crap has flowed from the Liberal party, through the right wing media and into almost every corner of Australian culture causing untold damage in mostly as-yet unrealised ways. We are all the poorer for it. Even those of us that agree with the specific policy positions of the Howardista of yore and the current, impotent incarnation.

People are less thoughtful as a result of it. People become less considerate when subjected to it. It doesn’t have to be xenophobic to be harmful – the sheer spite and stupidity of it is sufficient to incite people to a less than beneficial excitation.

Which is probably why and where I should leave this topic. It’s not worth my or your attention and unless you’ve had a laugh, you’ve just wasted a good part of your time reading this. It sure wasn’t worth my getting out of bed for!

Julie Bishop, thanks a heap!

~ Bruce

P.S. You can catch the Q&A action here.

* Seriously, if you had on one side, a NAZI political population that wanted to wipe out all Jews and on the other hand a political population that said that the ethnic cleansing of a single Jew is unacceptable, you would tell me that wiping out half of the Jewish population is a sensible compromise? Clearly (at least not to anti-Semites), the polar position of no ethnic cleansing is the sensible position. No centre of a political continuum can be automatically sensible! This senseless centrism and the accompanying sanctimony is really starting to annoy me.

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The myth of the economic credibility of the Liberal Party

Preface: This piece was originally authored back in November of 2007 before the marked acceleration of the downturn on Wall Street and the associated Global Financial Crisis. On the matter of comments I made regarding the degree to which governments act as economic managers; I maintain my position that by and large, modern Western governments do not act in the same interventionist manner as they did prior to the Keating Government, and much less compared to pre-Hawke governments, both Labor and Liberal. I would add however, that the Keynsian manner in which the Rudd Labor Government, in response to the Global Financial Crisis, engaged in a “stimulation” of the Australian economy during 2008-2009 that constituted a divergence from the comparatively passive economics of the last few decades. This stimulation however, while a legitimate and successful example of economic management, pales in comparison to pre-Hawke government Keynsianism, and was confined to the context of the Global Financial Crisis as a temporary measure.

On the matter of disclosure, I have since resigned from the Australian Labor Party. 

Changes to some of the original text have been made for the purposes of style and flow, however the substance of the arguments remains the same.

***

If after hearing what Howard and Costello have had to say, you’re still willing to have the size of your housing repayments or pay packet riding on this lot (The Howard Government), then you’re either so stinking rich as to not have to care about such things, or you’re just being mislead. There is no reason at all to think that the Libs will deliver “strong economic management” for you.

For most Australians, let’s face it, the credibility of the Government on the economy stems from gut feelings. This is understandable given the complexities of the issue and the amount of spare time working Australians have available to consider such issues. If you are like many, by the time you get home from work and get in front of a newspaper, the net or the telly (assuming the kids or paper work haven’t gobbled up what’s left of your time), you’re already pretty worn out and a long-winded discussion is going to tire you further.

The Libs have been great at exploiting this. With this kind of environment for voters, it understandably takes time for any disinformation the Government have spun to be analyzed in public discourse and exposed as false. By the time the truth is well known, it can be too late. The truth of “children overboard” took time to filter through so that when the facts were out, the election was well and truly over. Scrutiny of the role of DFAT in the AWB scandal was so protracted that by the time DFAT’s role was beginning to surface, people had switched off.

The economy is at least as complex as any of these examples of postponed and protracted public debate.

So I’ll try my best to be concise with your time in mind. Please do follow the links if your curiosity is aroused.

Continue reading

Howard doomed to repeat history?

It has a bizarre kind of symmetry to it.

All is not well with the Australian economy. Sure, monetary deregulation (in a large part thanks to Keating) has kept today’s interest rates from spiking like they did before the 90s, thus rendering election debate on interest rates more-or-less moot. Enterprise bargaining (thanks again Keating) has ensured the growth of our economy; productive growth. The kind of growth that puts the P into GDP (or GNP if you prefer), not growth in speculation, not cost-push inflation simply making the numbers bigger.

Still, things could be better. Whether or not we are experiencing inflation depends on which basket you use to measure the CPI. My own personal basket, if you consider rent, is skyrocketing. I don’t think I’m alone in this.

Debt. Once upon a time, debt used to be a stick that the Libs would beat the Hawke-Keating Govt. with (despite how much the prior Fraser Govt. contributed). Australian private sector debt (as a percentage of GDP/GNP) is worse under our current Federal Government than under any Australian Government in history. And that budget surplus that the Peter “The Grin” Costello is grinning about, well the shine is taken off of it when you consider the black hole in treasury to the tune of 60-odd-billion-dollars of unfunded super that the Federal Government has accrued.

Things could be worse, but things could be better. The Federal Government has nothing to pat itself on the back about when it comes to the economy and let’s face it, working families have it tough and more-so now that it is a lot easier to sack them (and while screwing their pay-packets down may be illegal according to the “Workplace Authority”, the “Authority” is often impotent in making determinations).

So it has to grate on many Australian’s nerves when they see comments like these.

(Source: Howard Facts ‘Never Better Off?‘)

Now Keating’s reforms (monetary and enterprise bargaining) may be things he can be proud of. They did good things for the Australian economy and still continue to do so. But… Things weren’t all that flash back when Keating was PM so getting all puffed-up and proud was probably a bad idea. Just as it’s a bad idea now.

Indeed, Keating was taken to task on his confidence. He was taken to task for his pride. A certain Australian lectured him on this mistake in the lead-up to mid-90s electoral defeat.

Surely then, the words of said Australian would also be pertinent political advice for John Winston “Never Had It Better” Howard!

Ah. The smell of hypocrisy in the evening.

~ Bruce

Disclosure: Bruce Everett is a (pretty nominal) member of the Australian Labor Party.